Jason Witten is an incredible player. While there may be other tight ends who have had flashier catches and bigger stats, Witten is known as one of the most complete tight ends the game has ever seen. Of course, his statistical ledger is quite impressive in it’s own right. Over his 15 seasons in the league, he has caught the ball 1,152 times for 12,448 yards and 68 touchdowns. They might as well put him in the Ring of Honor right now.
The future Hall of Fame tight end is certainly a legend, but he enters this new season at 37-years-old. Fortunately for Witten, he’s never amazed people with great athleticism, so while it always appears as if he’s lost a step - he’s really never had that step to begin with. In fact, Witten has looked energized so far in camp, but maybe that’s attributed to having fresh legs due to taking a year off.
The veteran is such a fundamentally sound player, that even a geriatric Witten will still be a tough cover for linebackers. While the plan may be to reduce his touches this year, we all know Witten is going to get his. But one player who might have something to say about the how the team uses their tight ends this year is third-year player Blake Jarwin.
Jarwin was one of the Cowboys undrafted free agents from 2017 and signed to their practice squad. Midway through the season, he was promoted to the 53-man roster to keep the Philadelphia Eagles from stealing him, but he only played in one game and never saw a single target. Last year, he made the team, but the Cowboys were very thin at tight end after Witten’s unexpectedly retired. While it appeared more opportunities were in store for Jarwin, he still wasn’t involved in the offense very much initially. With Geoff Swaim taking the lion’s share of the reps, Jarwin only had four catches for 42 yards through the first 10 games of the season. He only played in three snaps in each of the Cowboys big road wins against Atlanta and Philadelphia. His propensity for drops and the inability to finish plays caused him to be an afterthought in the first part of last season.
But then, a switch turned on.
After Swaim hurt his wrist, the Cowboys turned to Jarwin more out of necessity and the young tight end responded well. During his final six games, he had 23 catches for 265 yards, however a big chunk of that came during his three-touchdown game in the finale against the New York Giants.
It was a great way to end the year, and Jarwin is looking to build on what he had going last season. He looks bigger now as he’s bulked up over the offseason. The extra muscle will aid his ability as a blocker. Jarwin has never had a problem creating separation, but he’s moving a lot smoother in his routes. He also gets one of the game’s best mentors in camp with Witten by his side. This is only going to make him better. While the precision of movement is where Witten will have an advantage, Jarwin can fly down the field creating his own advantage. With a new offensive coordinator who is looking to add more explosiveness, that could be the ticket Jarwin needs to become more involved.
Jeff Cavanaugh from 105.3 The Fan was out there watching both tight ends play over the weekend, and he had this to say...
“Blake Jarwin moves a lot better than Jason Witten,” Cavanaugh said.
“If he’s [Witten] able to block and find his way open on the Y-option and you want to use him on your third-and-shorts because you think that craftiness is going to help, that’s cool. But if he’s getting 80% of the snaps out there, I think we have a problem. Now, we can put the pads on and he could clearly be the best tight end, and if that’s the case - let the man play his snaps. But that meritocracy talk better be real life when they get going in camp, because in the first two days, I would want Blake Jarwin in there on my offense.”
Witten will still be a key part of this offense, but the Cowboys might have a talent at the tight end position who is coming along well with his development. Could this be the year someone other than no. 82 leads the team’s tight end group? Don’t rule that out.